There are some difficulties in forecasting this Nuggets – Warriors series. For one, Andrew Bogut didn’t play against the Nuggets this season. And, in another indication of just how lucky the Warriors were in their schedule this year, they played the Nuggets three times in the first month, and then on Jan. 13th, and not once after that date. The Warriors managed to avoid the period when the Nuggets had their full roster and were clicking on all cylinders — and beating the Thunder on their home floor — towards the end of the season. So even if the Nuggets were at full strength, which they are not, it would be hard to apply the lessons of the regular season games to this playoff series. The Nuggets got better as the season progressed, while the Warriors, with the addition of Andrew Bogut, got objectively worse.
Then, of course, there are the injuries to Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. The loss of Gallinari is particularly devastating to the Nuggets’ playoff chances. He had developed into a tremendously efficient two-way player this season, and was the Nuggets’ closest thing to a crunch-time closer. His three-point shooting was critical to a team that has difficulty spreading the floor.
Ty Lawson’s torn fascia will be less of a problem for the Nuggets. He really helps them push the tempo, and is a much needed three point shooter, but he’s not a great playmaker, and he hurts them on defense. The Nuggets have played quite well in his absence, with Andre Miller and even Andre Iguodala at the point. For what it’s worth, Lawson’s boxscores look fairly decent since his return, although he’s not close to 100%. He should be productive in limited minutes, unless his fascia explodes.
Kenneth Faried missed the last two games of the season with a badly sprained ankle. He is “hopeful” that he will be able to play in game 1 of the series. But even if he does play, he will obviously be limited. For a player who relies so much on his speed, athleticism and jumping ability, this injury could prove devastating.
So the Nuggets come into this series down all or part of three starters. A darn shame if you’re a Nuggets fan, because in my book, they were primed for a title run. I think they could have beaten the injury-devastated Spurs. And I think they were good enough to beat the Thunder, as this resounding 114-104 victory, in March, on OKC’s home floor, in a key game for playoff seeding, indicated.
And they would have been an intriguing match-up against the Heat. They lost their two games against the Heat this season by a total of eight points, with both games falling in November, before Wilson Chandler — the key defender to deploy on Lebron James — was even available. The Nuggets could have been the toughest matchup imaginable for the Heat.
Do they still have enough to beat the Warriors? Vegas certainly thinks so. Here’s the line:
The Nuggets are 5-1 favorites, though you only get slightly better than 4-1 if you want to bet the Warriors.
This is certainly not encouraging for the Warriors’ chances. But I think this line is pretty fair, particularly if Andrew Bogut plays. Allow me to explain:
The Andrew Bogut Target: The Nuggets are an all-out running team, pushing the tempo relentlessly. Both Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee run the floor. Faried excels at running the floor. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer. You get the picture.
George Karl is going to pin a big bullseye on Andrew Bogut’s back, just as Don Nelson did to Eric Dampier back when We Believed. He’s going to see if Bogut can run with the Nuggets.
The Nuggets are also a driving and slashing team. With poor outside shooting, they need to attack the rim, and they do it relentlessly, with Faried, Iggy and Chandler. And also Koufos and McGee.
Does Bogut have the mobility and stamina to defend the rim for thirty minutes against all those players? Twenty minutes? Ten?
I fear that George Karl is going punish the Warriors badly for their use of a big, immobile, non-scoring center. The Nuggets are a terrible matchup for Bogut.
The Stephen Curry target: I’m sure we all greatly enjoyed Curry’s record-breaking regular season. And with the exception of one game where he got in foul trouble, he performed pretty well in the regular season against the Nuggets.
Don’t count on him performing well in this series.
George Karl knows that Curry is the key to the Warriors chances. If he can prevent Curry from having big games, the Warriors have little chance of success. So I’m guessing Karl pins a target on Curry’s back as well.
It will be interesting to see how Karl matches up against Curry. Because I think he has the weapons at his disposal to simply take Curry out of the game.
Particularly if Andrew Bogut plays. Both of Karl’s centers are exceedingly mobile, and deft at coming out of the lane to defend the pick and roll. If Bogut is used to set picks, Karl will be able to simply blitz Curry with absolute impunity. Because Bogut is no threat at all at the top of the key. No threat to roll, no threat to pop.
The Warriors offense will be better if David Lee is used to set the pick. But even then, the lane will not be open for Lee to roll to the hoop. Andrew Bogut’s man will be waiting for him under the basket, to block his shot. If I were George Karl, I would blitz Curry anyway with whoever is playing the four, Faried or Chandler, get the ball out of Curry’s hands, and live with Lee’s jumpers.
The other weapon that Karl has to take Curry out of the game is Andre Iguodala, one of the premier defenders in the game. We have seen numerous times already this season how Curry has struggled getting his shot off over long athletic defenders when Bogut is on the court. Well, Iggy is the longest and most athletic defensive guard there is.
I’m pretty sure that Karl will resort to the Iggy option sooner rather than later in this series. The only question will be where to hide his point guards.
Wait a minute, that’s not a question. We already know where he will hide his point guards. On Harrison Barnes. Andre Miller will have no problem picking up Barnes. But what about Ty Lawson?
I don’t know. Popovich guarded Barnes with Tony Parker, to good effect. And if I were Karl, I would want to entice the Warriors into posting up Barnes as often as possible.
The Klay Thompson target: One reason for Karl to match up conventionally in this series would be to put Iggy on Klay, who has become more and more of a threat as the season has progressed.
It seems like overkill, though, to have Wilson Chandler – another fabulous, long defender — on Harrison Barnes. If I were Mark Jackson, what I would fear most from the Nuggets is Iggy guarding Curry, and Chandler on Klay Thompson.
Unless it were the next lineup.
The David Lee target: Lee has been superb — the antithesis of a target — against the Nuggets this season. He and Festus Ezeli combined to do a fabulous job shutting down Koufos and Faried in the lane. The secret to playing Faried is to keep an eye and a body on him around the hoop at all times. Never let him shake loose. This is something that Lee absolutely excels at.
But what happens when George Karl slides Wilson Chandler to the four? I think we can definitely expect this to happen. It happened even when Gallinari was healthy. Towards the end of the season, I saw Karl close games with Chandler at the four, and Gallinari at the five!
Chandler at the four turns Lee into a target. Spreads him out to the three point line, taking his rebounding prowess out of the equation. Puts him at risk of being burned on drives.
And makes it more difficult for him to put the ball on the floor in pick and roll.
The Harrison Barnes target: It’s quite possible that Barnes shows well in this series, as he will be the least guarded Warrior on the floor.
Unless Karl matches up conventionally. If that happens, Wilson Chandler will eat Barnes alive. On offense, on defense, and on the boards.
Mark Jackson’s Answer: Does Jackson have an insurmountable problem in front of him? Perhaps.
But it should be noted that the Warriors have a team within their team that can run with the Nuggets. A team that starts Festus Ezeli at center in the first and third quarters. Plays Carl Landry at center in the second quarter. And finishes the game with David Lee at center.
The team that won so many games this year, against so many tough opponents, when Andrew Bogut was out.
Why are the Warriors better with this lineup on the floor?
Because they can match the Nuggets speed, and get back more easily on defense.
Because by upping the tempo, they can increase their number of offensive possessions, which is exactly what you want to do when you have the edge in three point shooting.
Because by upping the tempo, they can shake Curry and Thompson loose from the smothering defense of Iguodala, Chandler and Brewer, and get them open looks at transition threes.
Because by upping the tempo, they can get to the line more, as the Warriors did under Don Nelson.
Because David Lee, Festus Ezeli and Carl Landry have been effective defenders of the Nugget’s front line.
Because David Lee in the pick and roll has absolutely tortured the Nuggets this year. And Lee in the middle with a spread floor gets Curry and Thompson open at the three point line.
Because of games like this one: Warriors 106 Nuggets 105.
When you are watching Andrew Bogut play in this series, and watching the Warriors get out to miserable 15 point starts in the first 10 minutes of the game, keep in mind that there is another Warriors team on this roster.
Does Mark Jackson have the cojones to play it?
Is he willing to coach this series to win?
Also Check Out: Feltbot’s Western Conference Playoffs First Round Preview and Grading Feltbot’s Western Conference Regular Season Forecast.